WASHINGTON (October 12, 2000) -- Gail Quinn, Executive Director of the Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, has urged Congress to complete "the long overdue task" of passing the Pain Relief Promotion Act before adjourning later this month.
The legislation is needed to clarify the federal government's policy on pain management and assisted suicide, said Ms. Quinn in a letter to the Senate. The House approved the bill last fall.
The Pain Relief Promotion Act (H.R. 2260, S. 1272) would restore the uniform application of federal drug laws, so the authority of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is no longer invoked to promote suicides using lethal overdoses of federally controlled drugs. It would also promote use of these drugs for pain management, providing a clearer and more explicit "safe harbor" in the federal Controlled Substances Act, even when the usage of these pain control drugs may increase the risk of death.
"Thus the medical-moral principle of 'double effect' will be formally affirmed in federal drug laws--as it has been affirmed in many state laws on assisted suicide, and in all other federal programs through the Assisted Suicide Funding Restriction Act of 1997, with very positive effects on palliative care," the NCCB official wrote.
Her letter challenged opponents' claims that the Pain Relief Promotion Act is an unwarranted intrusion into medical practice that will have a "chilling effect" on physicians' willingness to relieve pain, pointing out that states which have adopted bans on assisted suicide have seen dramatic improvements in palliative care.
Ms. Quinn also noted that many groups which are strongly protective of health professionals' right and duty to offer effective pain management support the legislation, including the American Medical Association, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, American Pain Society, Hospice Association of America, American Academy of Pain Medicine, and the American Academy of Pain Management.
"All of them unhesitatingly opposed a previous bill to end federal support of assisted suicide in 1998, because they feared it may have had an adverse effect on pain management," Ms. Quinn stated. "They support the present Act because it was drafted to their specifications, to ensure that the Act's impact on pain control and hospice care will be completely positive."
"Others say Congress has higher priorities in its last days, such as prescription drug coverage," the Conference official said. "With due respect for concerns about the cost of prescription drugs, a very serious issue in its own right, it is absolutely essential to decide whether these drugs will be used to heal and comfort or to kill."
NOTE: The full text of Ms. Quinn's letter to the Senate is available on the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities' website,http://www.nccbuscc.org/prolife/issues/euthanas/prpa100400.htm